Bluesfest On The Go

John Butler Trio - Photo by Mike Bouchard

by Luke C. Bowden

Arriving by hook or by crook Wednesday night just in time to roll into Furthur (Grateful Dead core members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh accompanied by dextrous improvisers who've intimately worked up the Dead's vast songbook).  Heads from across Canada and North America, some on tour, some catching this one off show didn't quite know what to expect setlist wise based on the dense variation through the Dead's epochs they'd been playing night after night.  In the end we got Alabama Getaway as an opener, which for me is a deep omen because to my mind Alabama Getaway (a Dylan song truly made into a Dead song much like Quinn The Eskimo) has typically been played (rarely) as an opener and is most often followed by a huge set.    The mind bending set which included casual fan favourites Casey Jones went into a deep improvisational passage out of likely the most well known Dead song Truckin' segued into (represented in setlist by this symbol '>') Smokestack Lightnin' > Casey Jones. Likewise in another stupendous passage rather than playing the traditional Help On The Way> Slipknot> Franklyn's Tower they ran through an inspired Help On The Way> Caution (typically incredibly rare number)> New Speedway Boogie> Wharf Rat (a Dylanish character based, and deeply revered song)> I Fought The Law> Liberty.   

Thursday was a bit of a weak lineup for anyone other than the boomer set but Andrew Bird played a truly sublime show both visually and musically.  In particular one of his signature songs (with his trademark stupendous whistling) Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left left this listener in tears.

On Friday I was not particularly impressed by John Butler Trio, although I did feel a certain amount of pride seeing him on such a big stage playing a confident set as I had been sent a copy of his very first album by his publicist when he was first trying to get some dates in North America.   Truly though the event of likely the festival (although not musical) was a seperate ticketed show (for which I forked out an additional $62 for a ninth row seat to the most important comedian of the last 10 years, and if you don't believe me take Chris Rock's opinion on the matter).  Literally, as one who is rarely if ever at a loss for words can't even begin to fathom the 'set of comedy' that Louis C.K. delivered.  In his encore and through the set he scattered in likely impromptu remarks about Canada, Ottawa with a healthy respect/listlessness towards our nation.

Bear in Heaven
Photo courtesy of Andrew Carver
Saturday, to this journalist who follows rock bands like a horse better, featured three bands I had been deeply anticipating and had rigorously after much forethought placed in my Top 15 anticipated best bands.  The Mohawk Lodge (a more melodic Canadian answer to The Hold Steady, with to my mind some of the melded sonic riffery of Built To Spill) delivered material from their new album Crimes which was just released and doesn't nearly capture the sheer dynamic joy of their live show.   The hands down highlight of the set was their signature tune Wicked Nights (Canadian Girl).   Bear In Heaven a Pitchfork approved 'psychedelic' band from Brooklyn - although the lead singer is from Atlanta, GA originally (and was noticeably wearing a Grateful Dead shirt during his set) delivered a highly competent set including showpiece Ultimate Satisfaction.  While the Flaming Lips entertained tens of thousands this listener simply had to take in one of his favourite bands Passion Pit to see if they could deliver on their densely produced sound.  From the opening notes they held the audience in a thrall from the first notes. Expanding on their produced sound they fully fleshed out most of their repertoire from their Chunk of Change EP and Manners full length.   Personal highlights for this deeply invested Better Things (which contains to my ear one of the most beautiful lines in a song in the recent years - 'you got an angel on your shoulder.  Likewise Swimming In The Flood was truly inspired (as was truly the entire set) culminating with the obligatory Sleepyhead their global massive hit which has wormed it's ways into the Boys and Girls of The World.